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Georgia DOT Focuses on Better Freight Movement with I-16/I-75 Interchange Reconstruction

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews with C. W. Matthews of Marietta, Georgia, build the wooden mold that will hold the concrete in the upcoming deck pour for the future Interstate 16 eastbound lanes.
Crews with C. W. Matthews of Marietta, Georgia, build the wooden mold that will hold the concrete in the upcoming deck pour for the future Interstate 16 eastbound lanes.
The Georgia interstates see a significant amount of traffic. That traffic comes in the form of tourists who are going to and from Florida as well as freight due to the port in Savannah. In addition, there’s the typical local traffic. In order to move these various types of traffic safely and smoothly, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is engaged in the I-16/I-75 Interchange reconstruction project.

Other goals of the project include improving site distances and separating through traffic and local traffic. In addition, “There’s an ongoing emphasis on enabling freight movement through Georgia for economic development reasons,” said Penny Brooks, Communications Officer for District Three of GDOT.

Size and Scope
Due to the sheer size of the project, it has been split into six phases.

Over 11 miles of road are being impacted by the project. The interstates – I-16 and I-75 – are being widened from two to three lanes in each direction and shoulders will be widened. A Collector/ Distributor (CD) road system will be constructed parallel to both I-16 and I-75. These will be separated from the existing part of the interstate via concrete barriers.

“The goal is to separate the through traffic from the local traffic,” said Donald Stull, Area Manager for GDOT. Stull’s role on the project includes making sure the contractor is implementing the contract to fullest extent. “Each group will also have their own dedicated ramp to get on to the interstate which should reduce crashes.”

Other aspects of the project include removing 11 bridges and putting in 28 replacements. More ramps and bridges are needed due to the separation of traffic. Some of the bridges are over the interstate and others are over the Ocmulgee River. Phase six is focusing primarily on the reconstruction of a railroad tunnel.

Good Communication is Good for the Schedule
The first three phases are happening concurrently, and they started in July 2017 with an expected completion date of summer 2021. Phases four and five will begin after phases one, two, and three are completed. Phase six is expected to begin in 2023 and will be complete by 2026.
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The project is on schedule, which Stull credits to the open line of communication between GDOT and the contractor. “We have a well-organized system that involves reporting requirements and staff meetings to help us address issues in timely manner,” said Stull.

Because of the traffic impact that would come from shutting down the road, “This is a 24/7 project. We don’t want to impact traffic during the daytime, so lane closures can only happen at night,” said Stull.

Another challenge with keeping the project on schedule has been the multiple flooding of the Ocmulgee River. “Our engineers planned ahead because we knew this was a possibility,” said Brooks.

Neighborhood Impact and New Discoveries
Phase 1B involved providing mitigation to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood – one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in Georgia – which is being impacted by the construction. As part of the budget, $10 million was allocated for streetscape improvements, developing two parks, establishing a community resource center, and relocating 20 residences.

Some houses are simply being moved, including the boyhood home of Little Richard that was relocated to a nearby site. Other houses could not be moved, so GDOT is building new structures for these residents.

Macon is a historical city, a fact the construction team was reminded of during construction. During the project, historians have been called in to check things as the teams has come across that date back to the Antebellum period.

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Several old building foundations and retaining walls as well as utilities and sewer lines were discovered that were unexpected. These had to be removed to construct the roadways and bridges.

While working on phase three, the team encountered an empty cave. Historians investigated the cave and found it dated back to prohibition days and was a hiding place for bootleg liquor. “In the center of the cave was a perfect circle,” said Stull, “and that’s how they got the fumes out.”

This discovery meant the project had to be redesigned to avoid the cave.

“None of the issues the team ran into were operational,” said Brooks. “The team simply discovered things we didn’t know before, so we had to be adaptable.”

“The size of the project and having three active projects happening at one time is a challenge,” said Stull. He notes there are over 30 subcontractors on the project at any one given time and 28 cranes in operation, among other equipment. “We have a dedicated team and a well-organized system, so if there’s a particular issue, people know who to contact,” said Stull. “If the project was not organized, it wouldn’t go well.”

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The entire project – all six phases – is budgeted for $500 million. The federal government is primarily funding the project (80 percent) while the state of Georgia will pay the remainder.

When the I-16/I-75 Interchange reconstruction project is complete, through traffic and local traffic will be separated. This will make it significantly easier to move around the area, improve the flow of traffic, and increase safety for all types of traffic.

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